Verena recognised him; she had seen him the night before at Miss Birdseye's, and she said to her hostess, "Now I must go—you have got another caller!" I_as Verena's belief that in the fashionable world (like Mrs. Farrinder, sh_hought Miss Chancellor belonged to it—thought that, in standing there, sh_erself was in it)—in the highest social walks it was the custom of a prio_uest to depart when another friend arrived. She had been told at people'_oors that she could not be received because the lady of the house had _isitor, and she had retired on these occasions with a feeling of awe muc_ore than a sense of injury. They had not been the portals of fashion, but i_his respect, she deemed, they had emulated such bulwarks. Olive Chancello_ffered Basil Ransom a greeting which she believed to be consummately lady- like, and which the young man, narrating the scene several months later t_rs. Luna, whose susceptibilities he did not feel himself obliged to consider (she considered his so little), described by saying that she glared at him.
Olive had thought it very possible he would come that day if he was to leav_oston; though she was perfectly mindful that she had given him n_ncouragement at the moment they separated. If he should not come she shoul_e annoyed, and if he should come she should be furious; she was als_ufficiently mindful of that. But she had a foreboding that, of the tw_rievances, fortune would confer upon her only the less; the only one she ha_s yet was that he had responded to her letter—a complaint rather wanting i_ichness. If he came, at any rate, he would be likely to come shortly befor_inner, at the same hour as yesterday. He had now anticipated this perio_onsiderably, and it seemed to Miss Chancellor that he had taken a bas_dvantage of her, stolen a march upon her privacy. She was startled, disconcerted, but as I have said, she was rigorously lady-like. She wa_etermined not again to be fantastic, as she had been about his coming to Mis_irdseye's. The strange dread associating itself with that was somethin_hich, she devoutly trusted, she had felt once for all. She didn't know wha_e could do to her; he hadn't prevented, on the spot though he was, one of th_appiest things that had befallen her for so long—this quick, confident visi_f Verena Tarrant. It was only just at the last that he had come in, an_erena must go now; Olive's detaining hand immediately relaxed itself.
It is to be feared there was no disguise of Ransom's satisfaction at findin_imself once more face to face with the charming creature with whom he ha_xchanged that final speechless smile the evening before. He was more glad t_ee her than if she had been an old friend, for it seemed to him that she ha_uddenly become a new one. "The delightful girl," he said to himself; "sh_miles at me as if she liked me!" He could not know that this was fatuous, that she smiled so at every one; the first time she saw people she treate_hem as if she recognised them. Moreover, she did not seat herself again i_is honour; she let it be seen that she was still going. The three stood ther_ogether in the middle of the long, characteristic room, and, for the firs_ime in her life, Olive Chancellor chose not to introduce two persons who me_nder her roof. She hated Europe, but she could be European if it wer_ecessary. Neither of her companions had an idea that in leaving them simpl_lanted face to face (the terror of the American heart) she had so high _arrant; and presently Basil Ransom felt that he didn't care whether he wer_ntroduced or not, for the greatness of an evil didn't matter if the remed_ere equally great.
"Miss Tarrant won't be surprised if I recognise her—if I take the liberty t_peak to her. She is a public character; she must pay the penalty of he_istinction." These words he boldly addressed to the girl, with his mos_allant Southern manner, saying to himself meanwhile that she was prettie_till by daylight.
"Oh, a great many gentlemen have spoken to me," Verena said. "There were quit_ number at Topeka——" And her phrase lost itself in her look at Olive, as i_he were wondering what was the matter with her.
"Now, I am afraid you are going the very moment I appear," Ransom went on. "D_ou know that's very cruel to me? I know what your ideas are—you expresse_hem last night in such beautiful language; of course you convinced me. I a_shamed of being a man; but I am, and I can't help it, and I'll do penance an_ay you may prescribe. Must she go, Miss Olive?" he asked of his cousin. "D_ou flee before the individual male?" And he turned to Verena.
This young lady gave a laugh that resembled speech in liquid fusion. "Oh no; _ike the individual!"
As an incarnation of a "movement," Ransom thought her more and more singular, and he wondered how she came to be closeted so soon with his kinswoman, t_hom, only a few hours before, she had been a complete stranger. These, however, were doubtless the normal proceedings of women. He begged her to si_own again; he was sure Miss Chancellor would be sorry to part with her.
Verena, looking at her friend, not for permission, but for sympathy, droppe_gain into a chair, and Ransom waited to see Miss Chancellor do the same. Sh_ratified him after a moment, because she could not refuse without appearin_o put a hurt upon Verena; but it went hard with her, and she was altogethe_iscomposed. She had never seen any one so free in her own drawing-room a_his loud Southerner, to whom she had so rashly offered a footing; he extende_nvitations to her guests under her nose. That Verena should do as he aske_er was a signal sign of the absence of that "home-culture" (it was so tha_iss Chancellor expressed the missing quality) which she never supposed th_irl possessed: fortunately, as it would be supplied to her in abundance i_harles Street. (Olive of course held that home-culture was perfectl_ompatible with the widest emancipation.) It was with a perfectly goo_onscience that Verena complied with Basil Ransom's request; but it took he_uick sensibility only a moment to discover that her friend was not pleased.
She scarcely knew what had ruffled her, but at the same instant there passe_efore her the vision of the anxieties (of this sudden, unexplained sort, fo_nstance, and much worse) which intimate relations with Miss Chancellor migh_ntail.
"Now, I want you to tell me this," Basil Ransom said, leaning forward toward_erena, with his hands on his knees, and completely oblivious to his hostess.
"Do you really believe all that pretty moonshine you talked last night? _ould have listened to you for another hour; but I never heard such monstrou_entiments, I must protest—I must, as a calumniated, misrepresented man.
Confess you meant it as a kind of reductio ad absurdum—a satire on Mrs.
Farrinder?" He spoke in a tone of the freest pleasantry, with his familiar, friendly Southern cadence.
Verena looked at him with eyes that grew large. "Why, you don't mean to sa_ou don't believe in our cause?"
"Oh, it won't do—it won't do!" Ransom went on, laughing. "You are on the wron_ack altogether. Do you really take the ground that your sex has been withou_nfluence? Influence? Why, you have led us all by the nose to where we ar_ow! Wherever we are, it's all you. You are at the bottom of everything."
"Oh yes, and we want to be at the top," said Verena.
"Ah, the bottom is a better place, depend on it, when from there you move th_hole mass! Besides, you are on the top as well; you are everywhere, you ar_verything. I am of the opinion of that historical character—wasn't he som_ing?—who thought there was a lady behind everything. Whatever it was, h_eld, you have only to look for her; she is the explanation. Well, I alway_ook for her, and I always find her; of course, I am always delighted to d_o; but it proves she is the universal cause. Now, you don't mean to deny tha_ower, the power of setting men in motion. You are at the bottom of all th_ars."
"Well, I am like Mrs. Farrinder; I like opposition," Verena exclaimed, with _appy smile.
"That proves, as I say, how in spite of your expressions of horror you deligh_n the shock of battle. What do you say to Helen of Troy and the fearfu_arnage she excited? It is well known that the Empress of France was at th_ottom of the last war in that country. And as for our four fearful years o_laughter, of course, you won't deny that there the ladies were the grea_otive power. The Abolitionists brought it on, and were not the Abolitionist_rincipally females? Who was that celebrity that was mentioned las_ight?—Eliza P. Moseley. I regard Eliza as the cause of the biggest war o_hich history preserves the record."
Basil Ransom enjoyed his humour the more because Verena appeared to enjoy it; and the look with which she replied to him, at the end of this little tirade,
"Why, sir, you ought to take the platform too; we might go round together a_oison and antidote!"—this made him feel that he had convinced her, for th_oment, quite as much as it was important he should. In Verena's face, however, it lasted but an instant—an instant after she had glanced at Oliv_hancellor, who, with her eyes fixed intently on the ground (a look she was t_earn to know so well), had a strange expression. The girl slowly got up; sh_elt that she must go. She guessed Miss Chancellor didn't like this handsom_oker (it was so that Basil Ransom struck her); and it was impressed upon her ("in time," as she thought) that her new friend would be more serious eve_han she about the woman-question, serious as she had hitherto believe_erself to be.
"I should like so much to have the pleasure of seeing you again," Ranso_ontinued. "I think I should be able to interpret history for you by a ne_ight."
"Well, I should be very happy to see you in my home." These words had barel_allen from Verena's lips (her mother told her they were, in general, th_roper thing to say when people expressed such a desire as that; she must no_et it be assumed that she would come first to them)—she had hardly uttere_his hospitable speech when she felt the hand of her hostess upon her arm an_ecame aware that a passionate appeal sat in Olive's eyes.
"You will just catch the Charles Street car," that young woman murmured, wit_uffled sweetness.
Verena did not understand further than to see that she ought already to hav_eparted; and the simplest response was to kiss Miss Chancellor, an act whic_he briefly performed. Basil Ransom understood still less, and it was _elancholy commentary on his contention that men are not inferior, that thi_eeting could not come, however rapidly, to a close without his plunging int_ blunder which necessarily aggravated those he had already made. He had bee_nvited by the little prophetess, and yet he had not been invited; but he di_ot take that up, because he must absolutely leave Boston on the morrow, and, besides, Miss Chancellor appeared to have something to say to it. But he pu_ut his hand to Verena and said, "Good-bye, Miss Tarrant; are we not to hav_he pleasure of hearing you in New York? I am afraid we are sadly sunk."
"Certainly, I should like to raise my voice in the biggest city," the gir_eplied.
"Well, try to come on. I won't refute you. It would be a very stupid world, after all, if we always knew what women were going to say."
Verena was conscious of the approach of the Charles Street car, as well as o_he fact that Miss Chancellor was in pain; but she lingered long enough t_emark that she could see he had the old-fashioned ideas—he regarded woman a_he toy of man.
"Don't say the toy—say the joy!" Ransom exclaimed. "There is one statement _ill venture to advance; I am quite as fond of you as you are of each other!"
"Much he knows about that!" said Verena, with a side-long smile at Oliv_hancellor.
For Olive, it made her more beautiful than ever; still, there was no trace o_his mere personal elation in the splendid sententiousness with which, turnin_o Mr. Ransom, she remarked: "What women may be, or may not be, to each other, I won't attempt just now to say; but what the truth may be to a human soul, _hink perhaps even a woman may faintly suspect!"
"The truth? My dear cousin, your truth is a most vain thing!"
"Gracious me!" cried Verena Tarrant; and the gay vibration of her voice as sh_ttered this simple ejaculation was the last that Ransom heard of her. Mis_hancellor swept her out of the room, leaving the young man to extract _elish from the ineffable irony with which she uttered the words "even _oman." It was to be supposed, on general grounds, that she would reappear, but there was nothing in the glance she gave him, as she turned her back, tha_as an earnest of this. He stood there a moment, wondering; then his wonde_pent itself on the page of a book which, according to his habit at suc_imes, he had mechanically taken up, and in which he speedily becam_nterested. He read it for five minutes in an uncomfortable-looking attitude, and quite forgot that he had been forsaken. He was recalled to this fact b_he entrance of Mrs. Luna, arrayed as if for the street, and putting on he_loves again—she seemed always to be putting on her gloves. She wanted to kno_hat in the world he was doing there alone—whether her sister had not bee_otified.
"Oh yes," said Ransom, "she has just been with me, but she has gone downstair_ith Miss Tarrant."
"And who in the world is Miss Tarrant?"
Ransom was surprised that Mrs. Luna should not know of the intimacy of the tw_oung ladies, in spite of the brevity of their acquaintance, being already s_reat. But, apparently, Miss Olive had not mentioned her new friend. "Well, she is an inspirational speaker—the most charming creature in the world!"
Mrs. Luna paused in her manipulations, gave an amazed, amused stare, the_aused the room to ring with her laughter. "You don't mean to say you ar_onverted—already?"
"Converted to Miss Tarrant, decidedly."
"You are not to belong to any Miss Tarrant; you are to belong to me," Mrs.
Luna said, having thought over her Southern kinsman during the twenty-fou_ours, and made up her mind that he would be a good man for a lone woman t_now. Then she added: "Did you come here to meet her—the inspirationa_peaker?"
"No; I came to bid your sister good-bye."
"Are you really going? I haven't made you promise half the things I want yet.
But we will settle that in New York. How do you get on with Olive Chancellor?"
Mrs. Luna continued, making her points, as she always did, with eagerness, though her roundness and her dimples had hitherto prevented her from bein_ccused of that vice. It was her practice to speak of her sister by her whol_ame, and you would have supposed, from her usual manner of alluding to her, that Olive was much the older, instead of having been born ten years late_han Adeline. She had as many ways as possible of marking the gulf tha_ivided them; but she bridged it over lightly now by saying to Basil Ransom;
"Isn't she a dear old thing?"
This bridge, he saw, would not bear his weight, and her question seemed to hi_o have more audacity than sense. Why should she be so insincere? She migh_now that a man couldn't recognise Miss Chancellor in such a description a_hat. She was not old—she was sharply young; and it was inconceivable to him, though he had just seen the little prophetess kiss her, that she should eve_ecome any one's "dear." Least of all was she a "thing"; she was intensely, fearfully, a person. He hesitated a moment, and then he replied: "She's a ver_emarkable woman."
"Take care—don't be reckless!" cried Mrs. Luna. "Do you think she is ver_readful?"
"Don't say anything against my cousin," Basil answered; and at that momen_iss Chancellor re-entered the room. She murmured some request that he woul_xcuse her absence, but her sister interrupted her with an inquiry about Mis_arrant.
"Mr. Ransom thinks her wonderfully charming. Why didn't you show her to me? D_ou want to keep her all to yourself?"
Olive rested her eyes for some moments upon Mrs. Luna, without speaking. The_he said: "Your veil is not put on straight, Adeline."
"I look like a monster—that, evidently, is what you mean!" Adeline exclaimed, going to the mirror to rearrange the peccant tissue.
Miss Chancellor did not again ask Ransom to be seated; she appeared to take i_or granted that he would leave her now. But instead of this he returned t_he subject of Verena; he asked her whether she supposed the girl would com_ut in public—would go about like Mrs. Farrinder?
"Come out in public!" Olive repeated; "in public? Why, you don't imagine tha_ure voice is to be hushed?"
"Oh, hushed, no! it's too sweet for that. But not raised to a scream; no_orced and cracked and ruined. She oughtn't to become like the others. Sh_ught to remain apart."
"Apart—apart?" said Miss Chancellor; "when we shall all be looking to her, gathering about her, praying for her!" There was an exceeding scorn in he_oice. "If I can help her, she shall be an immense power for good."
"An immense power for quackery, my dear Miss Olive!" This broke from Basil'_ips in spite of a vow he had just taken not to say anything that should
"aggravate" his hostess, who was in a state of tension it was not difficult t_etect. But he had lowered his tone to friendly pleading, and the offensiv_ord was mitigated by his smile.
She moved away from him, backwards, as if he had given her a push. "Ah, well, now you are reckless," Mrs. Luna remarked, drawing out her ribbons before th_irror.
"I don't think you would interfere if you knew how little you understand us,"
Miss Chancellor said to Ransom.
"Whom do you mean by 'us'—your whole delightful sex? I don't understand you, Miss Olive."
"Come away with me, and I'll explain her as we go," Mrs. Luna went on, havin_inished her toilet.
Ransom offered his hand in farewell to his hostess; but Olive found i_mpossible to do anything but ignore the gesture. She could not have let hi_ouch her. "Well, then, if you must exhibit her to the multitude, bring her o_o New York," he said, with the same attempt at a light treatment.
"You'll have me in New York—you don't want any one else!" Mrs. Lun_jaculated, coquettishly. "I have made up my mind to winter there now."
Olive Chancellor looked from one to the other of her two relatives, one nea_nd the other distant, but each so little in sympathy with her, and it cam_ver her that there might be a kind of protection for her in binding the_ogether, entangling them with each other. She had never had an idea of tha_ind in her life before, and that this sudden subtlety should have gleame_pon her as a momentary talisman gives the measure of her present nervousness.
"If I could take her to New York, I would take her farther," she remarked, hoping she was enigmatical.
"You talk about 'taking' her, as if you were a lecture-agent. Are you goin_nto that business?" Mrs. Luna asked.
Ransom could not help noticing that Miss Chancellor would not shake hands wit_im, and he felt, on the whole, rather injured. He paused a moment befor_eaving the room—standing there with his hand on the knob of the door. "Loo_ere, Miss Olive, what did you write to me to come and see you for?" He mad_his inquiry with a countenance not destitute of gaiety, but his eyes showe_omething of that yellow light—just momentarily lurid—of which mention ha_een made. Mrs. Luna was on her way downstairs, and her companions remaine_ace to face.
"Ask my sister—I think she will tell you," said Olive, turning away from hi_nd going to the window. She remained there, looking out; she heard the doo_f the house close, and saw the two cross the street together. As they passe_ut of sight her fingers played, softly, a little air upon the pane; it seeme_o her that she had had an inspiration.
Basil Ransom, meanwhile, put the question to Mrs. Luna. "If she was not goin_o like me, why in the world did she write to me?"
"Because she wanted you to know me—she thought I would like you!" An_pparently she had not been wrong; for Mrs. Luna, when they reached Beaco_treet, would not hear of his leaving her to go her way alone, would not i_he least admit his plea that he had only an hour or two more in Boston (h_as to travel, economically, by the boat) and must devote the time to hi_usiness. She appealed to his Southern chivalry, and not in vain; practically, at least, he admitted the rights of women.